She grows up here and, in the end, forgets there'd ever been anywhere else.
Haku grows distant, even cold, and she doesn't understand why. Once, when he'd caught her stuffing a pork roll into her mouth, he'd turned away with a look of such disgust it felt like she'd been cut to the bone. Later, she'd tried asking him what was wrong, and he'd only said it was better she didn't know. After that, his visits to the lower levels of the bathhouse had become fewer and fewer, until he'd finally stopped coming around at all. On the rare occasions Sen passes him in the halls, he treats her with the same curt courtesy as anyone else, and the look in his eyes now -
If she remembered what hope was, she'd call it hopeless.
Lin remembers Sen coming to the bathhouse, but not from where. "From the same place as the rest of us, I assume," she says when she's pressed by the others - frog-men and big-headed women who know Sen is different, but can't put their water-wrinkled fingers on why. "Hey, Sen, wasn't there something you're supposed to do today?" she continues, but she doesn't know what and neither does Sen.
Lin is her best friend, her staunchest ally. In the beginning, when she'd cried herself to sleep at night and again in the mornings when she couldn't keep up with the rush, it had been Lin who'd defended her against taunting jeers and shown her the ropes. It's Lin she feels closest to, Lin who comes closest to understanding her.
In the evenings, they sit on the balcony and gaze out over the water, wondering what lies beyond the waves. "Someday, I'm going there," Lin says, and Sen believes her. Lin has ambition in a way the others don't - where the king of the grunts wants only to be promoted, Lin genuinely wants to rise above. It strikes something in Sen, a chord that resonates somewhere outside space and time.
They're rarely alone, and when they are, the moments are precious. Often, it happens while cleaning the tubs. Outside the baths, the mad dash of cooks and maids and lumbering spirits continues; a pot's dropped with such a clatter that it resonates through the halls and up to the next floor, and Yubaba screeches in that voice that could make nails on a chalkboard seem musical. Sen's head comes up, just to check that it's not somehow her fault, and in the bottom of the bowl, Lin mutters about old biddies.
The tub's not that dirty. They're taking advantage of the notion it might be in order to get a little peace. Sen slides down to the bottom herself and grunts, arms behind her head and one leg braced on the side. It's summer, and the bathhouse air is stifling - too many bodies, too much steam. She's already stripped off her shirt, and as she stretches, the arch of her back thrusts up her breasts. They're heavy mounds, pendulous and full, and that had surprised nearly everyone (herself not least of all). It's the bathhouse life - even with the days of work, the nights are too indolent. Too many celebrations thrown for pampered spirits, too much food. No one stays small-framed for long.
Lin reaches over to tweak a nipple and that's the way it starts, as it almost always does. Soon enough, she and Sen are wound into each other's arms, Sen nuzzling into Lin's neck and Lin pressing a knee between Sen's thighs. It's not a thing so shameful they feel a need to hide it - there are few men, true men, in the bathhouse, and the maidservants have learned how to tend themselves. It's more that they don't want to be joined. Their arrangement is different - there's genuine affection in it, and in this world of instant gratification and selfish delight, that's a prize as rare as gold.
They've been at the chore all morning. Both of them taste like soap and bath salts and very faintly of mud. It's a familiar taste, a wanted taste, and Sen's lips trail up to find and seal over Lin's. The kiss is gentle only for a moment - after that, teeth sink into flesh and pull back, stretching Lin's lower lip almost comically before it's released at last. Lin retaliates by planting her hands on Sen's shoulders and pinning the smaller woman to the tub's wall, both her legs between Sen's own and shoving hard. It's she who's on the attack now, tongue darting out like a lance to pierce Sen's mouth and duel with the fleshy weapon it holds.
Entwined, their chests pressed close, each woman's breasts half-flatten against the other's. Lin's are as weighty as Sen's are, if not more; their nipples larger, darker. When Lin breaks the kiss to gasp for breath, Sen ducks her head to take one of the turgid nubs into her mouth and tease it with her tongue - quick flicks, at first, that give way to strokes long and rough. Lin leans forward and for an instant, Sen's all but smothered by the crush of flesh. There's nothing maternal about their relationship now - when she suckles hungrily on the mound, it's to get something more than sustenance, and Lin responds accordingly. Sen's hands wrap Lin's waist and pull down hard, a groan escaping her as one of Lin's hands dips between her thighs and forces paired digits unceremoniously into a hole. The slickness there is half lust and half sweat; it's all filth and neither of them care. At least they're already in a bathtub.
They're quick about it only because they know they don't really have time; they've been dawdling in this room long enough. On another occasion, they might be able to love each other properly; to exchange lingering kisses and longer caresses, to sigh sweetly each into the ear of the other. Right now, though, the thump of footsteps and the rattle of trays are coming closer, and soon enough, Yubaba will be calling for them. They're left with careless thrusts and animal grunts; something that's more akin to rutting than anything else. Lin's hand twists and jabs Sen's clit with its thumb, and one of Sen's feet finds its way between Lin's thighs to probe her with its toes. It's hot in the bathhouse for more reasons than this and they're sweat-soaked and panting, and when they come, it isn't perfect like in a love story - one climaxes first and has to continue tending the other until she does as well, but when it's all said and done, neither knows which was which and it doesn't really matter.
They don't get a chance to bask in the afterglow - a cart's stopped outside the door and Aniyaku's voice is assuring someone that the bath ought to be ready. "Come on, we better get out of here," Lin hisses, tossing Sen one shirt before claiming the other as her own, and they both struggle to get the garments over their heads before the door slides back and they're ushered off.
As they're carrying the wash out to be hung and dried, Lin glances toward the long bridge over which incoming spirits walk. "What do you suppose is on the other side?" she asks, and Sen shrugs. She doesn't know. Still, she can't help but to stand and wonder for a time. It feels like she ought to know, and that strikes the same pang in her that talking about the far side of the sea does.
"Maybe someday, we'll go," Lin murmurs. There's a longing note in her voice, and suddenly, Sen feels more like a child than she has in years. She reaches for Lin's hand, and Lin's fingers twine through hers with a reassuring squeeze. They watch in silence as the sun sinks into the sea, until a shout from the bathhouse shatters the moment and they remember to carry on.